Monday, January 22, 2007

The biggest cocktail party in the world

he IPA in a report in 2007 suggested that: "In the future agencies must recognize that traditional advertiser/agency/consumer relationships will be challenged with new models of engagement coming to the fore. As traditional advertising continues to decline, by 2016, the hypothesis is that media owners of all kinds, including online search, all networks, gaming environments and interactive digital TV, will be integrating brands directly into content and editorial." (Re-invention is key if agencies are to survive).

Huh! 2016 is too far away. Try the end of next year, or at latest 2009.

The idea that there are market segments and stakeholders as described by Porter and Friedman come up against a mum commenting on social and domestic life, friends and locality for a small family circle. Such a diary, fascinating to son and daughter who have left home, does not describe a demographic segment. Its influence is personal and of limited circulation. If written online in a blog it disappears among the millions of other blogs also written by individuals. But, because it is public and can be viewed by a billion people worldwide, its potential audience is huge. The writer is the nexus of a tiny community but only at a time and in a context chosen by the community. The casual inclusion of a brand in this conversational medium is incidental and yet powerful. One aspect of this power is that the comment can move from beyond the family circle to other friends through the same medium or others and spread viraly. Sometimes at speed and others in a more leisurely fashion. The power is in conscious inclusion in 'small talk' at the biggest cocktail party in the world. Sometime this will be in the 'bloggersphere' and at others in others social media as diverse as YouTube and email. As with such comments there are occasions, from time to time, when the conversational cacophony pauses and the single voice is lone and clear and its message taken up by others. Online, this can count in millions and in seconds.

What we see in these interactions is not a 'market segment' or a 'stakeholder group' we see people with an interest in the values expressed. This convergence of values brings people together in wider, often short lived, social groups, a will-o-the-whisp emergence of both values and relationships. For brand and traditional stakeholder managers, this is too ephemeral, too counter to their training, unmanageable and yet mysteriously familiar.

It is about relationships and is powerful. Where the role of public relations is to interact with latent, aware and active social groups, it can now find them online.